Fight for the forest in Root

Being on board since the first Kickstarter I received Root in 2018. I loved the artwork, and the idea of animals fighting to rule the forest. I didn’t get to play it until 2020. Part of that is me being lazy, but a bigger part is me being terrified of learning and teaching this asymmetrical game.

Designer: Cole Wehrle

Publisher: Leder Games

Root is a game where each player has their own set of mechanics. For instance, the Cats play your standard build, move, and attack commands common in these types of board games. The Birds however, have to be programmed, each round they have to fulfil a move set, and each round you can build on this move set. Instead of playing an army, the Raccoon is singular, slipping through the battlefield trading items with other players for points. Lastly, the Mice, who even though I’ve played them 3 times, I’m still not sure what they do.

Now, as game owner, it is my solemn duty to learn the rules of the game before everyone sits at the table. To ensure we have a seamless time playing. And when looking at Root, and the 5 different rule sets you need to learn, you’ll feel apprehension over the amount you have to parse.

But it’s not that bad.

Up close shot of the Eyrie faction meeples, in the background the Marquise looms.
These birds are plotting something – I know it!

A lot of effort went into making this game as easy as possible to teach, and it pays off big time. As while there are a lot of rules when looking at the whole, each individual faction is quite simple to play. And the individual rules you need to know for each faction are printed on the player boards already.

This helped me get over my apprehension, and I’m so thankful I did. Because it turns out I love Root.

It holds my favourite gaming highlight of 2020. Which I’ll talk to later, let’s first talk about why I love Root and it’s forced narrative.

The way the Cats are built, they’re always going to come out strong, and it requires the whole forest to keep them in check. The Birds on the other hand start weak, take time to get going, but when they do they steam roll everything. The Raccoon is trying to judge who’s going to win, and pick a side to help, all the while helping themselves to every point they can get their cute but dirty little hands on. Finally the Mice, pop out of nowhere and then do something, I’m still not sure what.

Because these factions are built this way, it creates a story for each game. The Cats start off as the villains, and at the beginning of the game the plot revolves around working together to thwart their efforts. But as the game progresses and the point leader changes – so does the villain of the story. Will it be you who rises to the top? Or will you find yourself at the beck and call of another villain. This story with all its twists and turns, heroes and villains, is what makes Root incredibly engaging to play.

The map mid game the Marquise is on the backfoot, being aided by the Vagabond.
Mid game, you can see my mice doing nothing haha

Mechanically, each faction is quite straight forward with two to three simple ways of scoring points. The game is figuring out the quickest way to get those points, and the best way of stopping opponents from getting points in a complex and evolving environment.

However, if you’re finding that you can’t keep up with the winners, you can always try your hand at Dominance cards. These cards allow you throw away the victory condition of getting to 30 points first, and instead bet the table that you’ll own three specific areas by the start of your next turn.

Back to my highlight of the year. The Cats domination of the forest was beginning to wane, but they were still really strong. Realising their time was coming to an end, they put down a Dominance card. The whole shape of the game changed from trying to hinder all the players enough for me to get ahead. To holy crap we need to skin that Cat! It took the Bird player and I everything we had and an edge of your seat dice roll to stop him.

I went on to lose the game, a long with the Cat player, but it was a magical experience, and one I won’t forget in a while.

All of the factions found in the base game of Root
The four base factions

My other plays of Root haven’t reached the same heights, but they’ve always been incredibly engaging. Both as a player wanting to win, and as an observer watching the control of the forest flow from one player to the next. Root is a brilliant game, and one I’ve done a complete 180 on. Instead of being afraid to get it to the table, I now want to get it to the table every chance I get.

Thanks for reading my review, I’m currently ranking all my board games in a combatative list. You can see Root’s initial ranking below.

Initial Rank: 3

David Norris

Lover of dogs, books, comics, movies, anime, television, video games and most importantly board games. My site is all about the latter, and my journey through the glorious hobby.

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